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2011 NFL – FINAL POWER 15! (Plus 17)

The final NFL Power 15 for 2011!! In years past I’ve only done a Power-15, but this year I’m going to rank all 32 squads in a final power ranking extravaganza! Oddly enough it seems as if the NFL broke down into 3 tiers. I felt pretty good about ranking my top-11 teams. I also felt pretty good about ranking the bottom-12 teams, but the middle 9 teams were a little difficult to parse. I think I did an adequate job of ranking the teams and obviously I’ll go into more details below as to why I came up with the rankings as I did. Like with the final college football rankings, I’ll reference how I ranked the teams in my preseason Power-15 I did way back before the season began.

#1 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #13; Who else can be the #1 team besides the Super Bowl champions? Before the season began I wrote there wasn’t much the Giants could do at this point except execute their game plans and hope for the best. They did just that and wound up winning a championship. The Giants and to a certain extent the Packers in 2010 are showing us more & more that it’s now how you begin a season, but rather how you finish it. The Giants showed us this as well to a degree in 2007. If you were looking for the best team in the NFL in 2011 then you’d be hard pressed to think the Packers weren’t the best team, but the Giants got hot at the right time and won the Super Bowl proving the Super Bowl champion is oftentimes not the best team during the regular season. What’s interesting about the Giants is that they really are an elite team, with an elite head coach, quarterbacked by an elite QB. Each time this team steps onto the field, they should expect to win and you’d think that Eli Manning has supreme confidence in his abilities to get the offense to score points at will especially given the weapons at his disposal. The Giants don’t lose any starters from this year’s team either except for RT Kareem McKenzie who is a free agent. I suppose he could come back, but his play was way down from a season ago, & the Giants might look to go in another direction. So why the 9-7 record? To me 4 of those games (WAS twice, SEA & home against Philly) were lack of consistency or else the G-Men could have been 13-3. That is where they need to go, because the team looks great moving forward.
#2 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #1; To me the Packers were even more dangerous than the Patriots in 2007 as a threat to go 19-0. After starting the season 13-0, the Packers dropped one in Kansas City before winning & losing to the Giants at Lambeau in the NFC Divisional round. Oddly enough the Packers started the year 13-0 but finished at just 2-2 in their final 4 games! Obviously Aaron Rodgers leading a juggernaut offense & taking home an MVP award is a huge story, but a couple of things really covered Green Bay’s season pretty well. The defense was dead last in total yards and the Packers despite the 15-1 record were actually outgained on a per game basis which seems INSANE. Why can that happen you ask? The Packers were also +24 in turnover margin which will cover over a multitude of deficiencies! That’s like being +1-2 turnovers in every game! With an offense as good as Green Bay has combined with plenty of opportunities via the turnover, a team is going to win a lot of games. What happened to the defense though? Did losing FS Nick Collins destroy the secondary chemistry so much that the Packers were stone cold awful against the pass. They did rank last in that category! BJ Raji didn’t have a good year. Like the Giants, the Packers don’t really lose anyone so it’s more of a matter of them simply getting better on defense & keeping the offense humming. TE Jermichael Finley is a free agent so it’ll be interesting to see what the Packers do. It would seem like the obvious move to bring back he and OC Scott Wells. Great season but ran into a team in the Giants that were the perfect foil and playing out of their minds.
#3 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; Easily the best story of the season. I’m not particularly a 49ers fan. In fact, I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan so you sort of have to hate teams like the 49ers, but I am a BIG FAN of Jim Harbaugh which means there is now somewhat of a soft spot in my heart for San Francisco because Captain Comeback is now the HC. Defensively the 49ers got a lot better from 2010, but that was in some way expected because the defense was so young and talented. On the other hand, I didn’t think the transformation would be that drastic. Dashon Goldson was a BEAST! Aldon Smith was practically unstoppable! Navorro Bowman was amazing while Patrick Willis continues to be one of the best LBs in the NFL! Of course the heart & soul is Justin Smith. Although we could potentially see the defensive transformation, I don’t think any of us saw what was coming with Alex Smith! You might think the 49ers babied Smith a bit, but not really. They ran the ball 52% of the time so Smith got equal billing. He completed 61% of his passes & only threw 5 picks. What’s interesting is how much can we attribute SF’s success to luck? They led the NFL with a +28 turnover margin! That’s insane, plus the schedule wasn’t awful. They got the NFC West, AFC North & NFC East along with Tampa & Detroit. Given how some of those teams played you could have predicted at least 10 wins assuming Harbaugh & Smith workout. They got 3 more so it’s not like the record was crazy in light of how bad teams were. It’ll be interesting to see how SF deals with this next season, but unlike GB & NYG, the 49ers have some free agent problems. Alex Smith, Ted Ginn, Josh Morgan, Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson, Adam Snyder & Ahmad Brooks are all free agents. SF deserves the #3 spot. Easily. A great season & a return to greatness for a storied franchise.
#4 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #5; While the Giants proved that it doesn’t matter how you start, but rather how you finish, I think the Saints show that teams have to beat teams they should beat. The Saints finished the year at 13-3 which was good enough for the #3 seed because they had some inexplicable losses during the season to the 2-14 Rams & the 4-12 Bucs. If New Orleans wins those games they finish the year 15-1. They’d still be the #2 seed because they lost the season opener to Green Bay, BUT New Orleans would have had a 1st round bye & then the 49ers travel to the Superdome instead of the Saints traveling to Candlestick Park. Not only that, but if the playoffs then play out like they did, then the Saints potentially get a home game against the Giants in the NFC Championship game for the right to play the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Drew Brees simply doesn’t lose at home, and I have a hard time believing Drew Brees & Sean Payton aren’t the HC/QB combo winning their 2nd Lombardi Trophy had the Saints been able to beat the Bucs & Rams during the regular season. It’s odd to even put the Saints at #4 because to me they are SO SO GOOD! Still, they lost to GB & SF in the regular season & the Giants won the Super Bowl. The top tier of the NFC was just AMAZING this season! The Saints face an interesting offseason. They have freee agents that include Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Courtney Roby, Carl Nicks, Aubrayo Franklin, Jo-Lonn Dunbar & Tracy Porter. That’s 7 starters which is a pretty big chunk. As long as Brees & Payton are there, expect big things from the Saints.
#5 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #2; It’s a little weird to have the AFC Champions down here at #5 behind 4 teams from the NFC, especially when that AFC team is led by Bill Belichick & Tom Brady, but the Patriots defense was so bad this season that I simply don’t think their offense could have outscored the above 4 teams. The closest they might come is to San Fransisco, but I don’t think New England would have had an answer for Aldon Smith & Justin Smith on the edge. Brady might have wound up in the hospital. On the other hand, the line between #1 & #5 is razor thin because New England might be celebrating yet another Super Bowl victory had Aaron Hernandez & Wes Welker held on to passes in New England’s final drive. There isn’t much to knock with New England. They were on a 10-game winning streak entering the Super Bowl. They were 13-3 in the regular season. All of that looks good, but a deeper look shows that they didn’t really beat anyone en route to 13-wins. The schedule was crazy soft. Denver probably shouldn’t have been in the playoffs while Billy Cundiff choking horribly in the AFC Championship game was another bit of luck thrown at the Patriots. People are hammering Belichick right now for his strategy to make the Giants go to Manningham & not Nicks or Cruz, but that circus catch on the sidelines is probably made one in a hundred times. The same way with the David Tyree catch 4 years earlier. We can hammer Belichick all you want, but if you were a betting man you’d bet against those catches every time & Belichick is THIS CLOSE to being 5-0 in the Super Bowl. Imagine if NE’s defense gets better? Scary though indeed.
#6 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #8; It’s pretty amazing that by most metrics, Baltimore’s special teams were awful and it ended up being a missed FG that lost the AFC Championship game. The Ravens are sort of the victims of their own inconsistency much the same way the Saints were. The Ravens went 12-4 during the regular season including a perfect 8-0 mark at home. On the other hand, the 4 losses they took on were to the Jaguars, Seahawks, Chargers & Titans. Even giving San Diego & Tennessee the benefit of the doubt, the Ravens still should have beaten the Jags & Seattle meaning their 12-4 record would have morphed into a 14-2 mark which would have had New England traveling to Baltimore, but would have also given Baltimore the Broncos instead of the Texans in the AFC Divisional round. I think all of those things make a difference. QB Joe Flacco is going to take some flack, but Billy Cundiff just gagged & lets face it, the Ravens have yet to get to a Super Bowl, but Flacco has only been in the league for 4 years and has made the playoffs in each of his first 4 years and the team he loses to in the playoff winds up being the eventual AFC Champion. I still think OC Cam Cameron could be the problem because I’d like to see Flacco really open up the offense & show off his arm. The Ravens might not entirely buy into that line of thinking as long as they have Ray Rice, who incidentally is a free agent. I doubt Baltimore lets that gem get away so expect the offense to keep their focus on Rice although with the emergence of Torrey Smith it’ll be interesting. If the Ravens bring back Rice, they’ll pretty much come back intact for 2012. There is absolutely nothing for the Ravens to do at this point but get to a Super Bowl.
#7 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #3; There isn’t much to say about the Pittsburgh Steelers. They went 12-4 during the regular season with losses coming to the Texans, 49ers & Ravens (twice). Most every team in the NFL would have lost those games! By the end of the season Pittsburgh was beat to hell and Denver was riding the wave of Tebowmania at home which led to Pittsburgh’s one and done playoff stay. If you were nitpicking you would like to see Pittsburgh beat Baltimore at Heinz Field giving Pittsburgh a chance to win the North, but that loss wasn’t a deal breaker. The offensive line was an injured mess this season with Mike Tomlin having to use 11 different starting lineups. That’s about the only thing to complain about. The one thing that does stand out about Pittsburgh is their -13 TO margin. The only teams with a worse TO margin were Philly, Tampa & Washington. While teams like the Giants, Packers & Patriots were enjoying incredible TO margins, the Steelers were suffering through TO hell. Turnovers seem to be cyclical so the Steelers could be in for a tremendous bounce back in 2012. What is interesting about Pittsburgh is the little mini-drama they’ve made themselves by getting rid of OC Bruce Arians and bringing in former Chiefs HC Todd Haley to run the offense. Haley is certainly a polarizing figure and has plenty of detractors. Ben Roethlisberger has gone on record that he wouldn’t want to start over on offense, but that looks exactly like what Haley intends to do. How will this affect Pittsburgh going forward especially with the rumor out there that Mike Tomlin really didn’t want to get rid of Arians to begin with? Tough way to end the season.
#8 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #9; Definitely a season that you have to constantly ask yourself what might have been. With all due respect to Arian Foster, you could easily argue that the Texans two best players are Andre Johnson & Mario Williams. They missed 11 & 9 games respectively. Now throw in losing QB Matt Schaub for 6.5 games during the regular seasons & all of the playoffs and you are essentilly operating in a situation that seemed only possible in nightmares. You can always look behind you after the season is over, but Houston is another good example, much the same way Baltimore & New Orleans are. They ended up 10-6, but late in the season they dropped home games to the Titans & Panthers while losing to the Colts in Indy. That could have changed a 10-6 record to 13-3. They lost to Baltimore early on so they couldn’t have gotten into the top-2, but if the Ravens get to 14-2 then Houston could have really changed things by potentially getting the #2 spot and forcing New England into the #3 position. Who knows what happens at that point. Cincy travels to New England before the Patriots travel to Houston & the Broncos/Steelers had to Baltimore. It’s a completely different season. The Wade Phillips hire at DC was a grand slam as Houston developed into one of the best defensive units in the league. Ben Tate emerged and Arian Foster was against Arian Foster. Imagine now if this team gets healthy 16-game seasons out of Schaub, Johnson & Williams!? Mario Williams might not be back next season oddly enough. He’s a free agent & Houston played pretty well without him last season. The pieces are here so the only thing left to do is get the team healthy & ready to go for a playoff push. If Peyton Manning isn’t in Indianapolis, Houston should have no problems winning the South once again.
#9 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #11; The Falcons ended about where I thought they’d be. Last year Atlanta went 13-3 but were the beneficiaries of being 7-2 in close games & having a +14 TO margin. This year the TO margin was still great at +8, but their close game record came down to 4-3 which resulted in a 10-6 record. They had to travel to New York for their wild card game, but losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions on the road isn’t something to be ashamed of. The only head scratching loss Atlanta had all season was against Tampa, but nothing would have changed for their playoff outlook if they had been 11-5 instead of 10-6. What’s pretty wild is advanced metrics point to Atlanta’s running game as being a bit sub-par although Michael Turner rushed for 1,340 yards & 11TD while averaging 4.5ypc. On the other hand Atlanta averaged 4.0ypc as a team which ranked 22nd in the league. I feel a lot about Atlanta as I do about Baltimore. The thing now is whether the combination of Mike Smith & Matt Ryan is good enough to get to a Super Bowl. The Ravens are a bit ahead of Atlanta as far as playoff success is concerned & I think the Ravens have a better defense, but for the most part the Falcons only have to prove they are a championship caliber team. The Falcons are unlikely to bring back DE John Abraham who is the Falcons best pass rusher even with the presence of Ray Edwards on the opposite side because the Falcons have to make resigning Curtis Lofton & Brent Grimes a priority. Another solid playoff caliber season in 2011, but next fall we’ll be wondering if Atlanta is ready to take the next step.
#10 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #10; The “Dream Team” didn’t really work out, but remember that the Eagles were 2-5 in close games & were the 2nd worst team in the NFL regarding turnover margin, sitting at a pathetic -14! Only Tampa Bay who I rank dead last in these rankings had a worse TO margin. Some will look on this as an indictment on Andy Reid or possibly even Michael Vick, but I’m not entirely sure that’s appropriate. I rank Philly #10, because they really were that good of a football team last season. They went 7-2 in their last 9 games. They finished 4th in the NFL in total offense & #8 in total defense. If you were going by only the 2nd half of the season, Philadelphia might be a borderline top-5 team. The turnovers though were a significant problem. Michael Vick threw 14 picks and had 10 fumbles! That’s going to crush the Eagles no matter how good they because they are primarily a run based team behind Vick & LeSean McCoy. The Eagles pretty much have everyone coming back next season. I’d expect them to keep Evan Mathis, but I think DeSean Jackson is probably a goner. Jackson is an incredible talent, but his poor attitude always seemed to be a storyline this past season. It might not matter anyway because of who is throwing to him. The Eagles are pretty much living & dying with Mike Vick, but Vick has now been in the league since 2001 and while he’s gotten to the playoffs, he’s not really great when he gets there. Vick is the 3rd best QB in his own division and likely the 9th or 10th best QB in the NFC. Vick will be 32 next season. Can the Eagles win a Super Bowl with him? The odds are pretty long.
#11 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #15; Easily the 2nd best story in the NFL this season behind the 49ers. You absolutely have to love coaches like Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh! After the 49ers/Lions game those two guys were ready to throw down so who wasn’t hoping for a rematch in the playoffs between these two teams!? AWESOME! For the good of the NFL, let’s hope Detroit & San Francisco get really good because this could be a rivalry that would make any Lions/49ers game the most watched game in the NFL! You can feel the hatred here! I think Detroit did exactly what they were supposed to do this season. They took advantage of their schedule & won the games they should have won. The first 8 games of the schedule wasn’t bad & Detroit turned in a 6-2 mark which set them up well. They didn’t play great in the 2nd half, but won the games they were supposed to win & finished 10-6 with a playoff spot. Their 6 losses came against Green Bay (twice), SF, Atlanta, at Chicago & at New Orleans. Except for the road game against the 8-8 Bears, Detroit lost to only playoff caliber squads. They lost at New Orleans in the Wild Card game, but this is simply progression for a young Lions squad. They’ll have to build on it for next year, but they have a few questions to be answered. As good as the offense was this season, Detroit needs to find a RB. Hopefully a healthy Mikel Leshoure helps. Free agency could take a toll on Detroit as well because LT Jeff Backus, DE Cliff Avril, MLB Stephen Tulloch & CB Eric Wright are all free agents. Next year’s schedule looks like at least 10 wins. Detroit simply has to build on their own success.
#12 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #6; It was a tale of 3 seasons for the Chargers in 2011. San Diego went 4-1 in their first 5 games, 0-6 in their next 6, and 4-1 in their final 5 to finish 8-8 and tied for 1st place in the AFC West, but stuck at home because of tiebreakers. That 0-6 middle of the season could have just as easily been 5-1 because the Bolts lost 5 of those 6 games by close margins. Giving SD another 5 wins would have put them at 13-3, so the margin between home field advantage throughout the playoffs and missing the playoffs entirely was razor thin for this team. Home losses to the Raiders & Broncos essentially did this team in. You had to love what this team did offensively. They ranked 5th in the NFL in scoring offense yet Phillip Rivers had a terrible year by his own standards & I don’t think Norv Turner & Co. gave Ryan Mathews the ball nearly enough given his production when he was healthy. San Diego was certainly getting hot at the right time & it would have been interesting to see a pass dominant team like San Diego go into New England in the divisional round rather than a run happy Tim Tebow led team. I thought it was surprising that Chargers ownership decided to keep Norv Turner & AJ Smith. The Chargers were better than their 8-8 record would indicate & they have to be the favorites for the West in 2012 if only because they were 3-5 in close games & -6 in TO margin. Still, they face a lot of turnover. The O-Line was a mess this season. Vincent Jackson could leave via free agency & the defense wasn’t very good. SD needs to figure out if Turner can win Super Bowls because if he can’t they are wasting Rivers’s best years.
#13 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; Imagine what the Titans could have done if they had an upper tier QB under center? I didn’t expect much from Tennessee to start the season, but the 9-7 record was impressive & nearly got them into the playoffs. Remember that Tennessee had losses to Indianapolis & Jacksonville which could have improved their record to 11-5 & a division title! Kudos to Matt Hasselbeck though. The kid stayed healthy & did a pretty good job. He may have thrown a few too many picks, but his completion rate was over 60% & he won 9 games. More than anything, he allowed a year for developmental time for Jake Locker. Hasselbeck also did a good job bring up young receivers. Jared Cook took a step forward. So did LaVelle Hawkins & Damian Williams. The Titans had a pretty good offense even without playing with their best WR in Kenny Britt & a horrible year from RB Chris Johnson. Defensively the Titans were OK. The front 7 was pretty good at stopping the run, but the Titans need to get better in their pass defense. They have quite a few free agents in the secondary including CB Cortland Finnegan, S Michael Griffin & S Jordan Babineaux. It would be tough to replace your whole secondary, but I suppose the Titans could do it. They need to figure out a way to get another DE to go opposite of Derrick Morgan too. As much as Colts fans would hate to hear it, this is an ideal spot for Peyton Manning. The offensive talent is impressive and the defense is pretty good. Even without Manning, the Titans have a very good season to build on although there are some issues this offseason. Solid 2011 effort.
#14 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; Statistically there is no chance this team is one of the 14-best teams in the NFL, but I simply couldn’t ignore what Arizona did down the stretch. Arizona is a perfect example of how parity works in the NFL and how close these teams actually are. In their first 7 games, the Cardinals went 1-6. They were 1-4 in close games & had a -4 TO margin. In their final 9 games, the Cardinals went 7-2. They were 7-1 in close games with a -9 TO margin! For the season Arizona had a “best case” record of 13-3 while their “worst case” record was 0-16! Of their 16 games, 13 of them were decided by 7 points or fewer! The big story for Arizona this season is that the Kevin Kolb experiment clearly didn’t work in the desert. Neither did the John Skelton experiment. If there is a team in dire need of a QB in the NFL it’s the Arizona Cardinals who haven’t quite figured out how to replace Kurt Warner who led the Cardinals to the brink of a Super Bowl title and then retired. Arizona never really threatened for a playoff spot especially with how the 49ers took over the West, but who could have seen that coming? An 8-8 season isn’t overly fantastic, but Seattle won the division with a 7-9 record in 2010 so 8-8 was playoff worthy before the season began! Arizona essentially has the entire team coming back next season. I love Ken Whisenhunt as a coach & Chris Wells took a step forward at RB this past season. If Arizona can figure out the QB situation & get a capable TE, then there is no reason to believe they can’t push for a playoff spot especially if the TO margin regresses to the mean. Another ideal spot for Peyton Manning if he’s not in Indy.
#15 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #4; A horrific season for the Jets especially after having gone to the AFC Championship game the past 2 seasons. Finishing 8-8 looks a bit rough, but the Jets are another abject lesson in beating teams you should beat. Losses to the Raiders, Broncos & Dolphins turned an 11-5 season & a playoff berth to 8-8 and a seat on the couch. Really a season of oddities for the Jets. By any type of advanced metric, this team had yet another season of incredible defense. Some metrics I’ve seen rate the Jets as the 2nd best defense in the NFL, yet they ranked 20th in the league in points allowed! That’s an incredible stat. Offensively the team was a gigantic mess. When your two best receivers are Santonio Holmes & Plaxico Burress, then you know things are bad. Mark Sanchez was downright awful this year while the running game was also disappointing even though NY’s offensive line did a solid job as a run blocking unit. TE Dustin Keller actually led the team in receiving! There isn’t much else to say about the 2011 season. Offensively the Jets were absolutely brutal with tons of inhouse fighting while the defense played great again. OC Brian Schottenheimer is a goner and former Dolphins HC Tony Sporano takes over as OC which should help out New York tremendously. Burress is gone & even though the Jets had to pay Holmes, they should get rid of him too. Unfortunately for Rex Ryan, Sanchez proved once again that he’s not a Super Bowl winning QB. Unless something drastically changes, Ryan & the Jets are going to have to recognize this if they want to move forward. Very solid team, but 2011 was a big disappointment.
#16 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #12; The Cowboys weren’t quite as disappointing as the Jets were only because I think the expectations on the Jets were a bit higher than for America’s team. Dallas’s last 5 games were abysmal. The Cowboys were 7-4 after 11 games with 2 to play against the Giants. With Philadelphia seemingly in the tank, all Dallas had to do is when a couple of games (one of them coming against the Giants) and they’d be in the playoffs. They couldn’t even do that, losing 4 of their last 5 including both games to New York which catapulted the Giants to not only the NFC East crown, but also to a 2nd Super Bowl title in 4 years! I rank the Cowboys right in the middle of the pack because that is what kind of team they were. Right in the middle of the pack in both scoring offense & defense. Losing Demarco Murray after he started to explode certainly didn’t help the cause in Dallas, but as an ardent Cowboys homer the issues run a lot deeper than just losing Murray. Dallas hasn’t been able to find an effective HC since losing Jimmy Johnson. Bill Parcells was sweet, but it seemed like he left a little too early. I’m also beginning to wonder if Jerry Jones isn’t a halfway decent GM. The talent on this roster is equal to that of any team in the league, yet the Cowboys can’t seem to cash in on it. Like the Jets, the Cowboys have to really wonder if their QB can win a championship? If not then Dallas is just treading water & it’s not like Philly & the Giants are going away next season. Rob Ryan fell on the sword for Dallas this season, but when will Romo? He’ll be 32 next season meaning time might already be out for him.
#17 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; Obviously you can’t say anything about the 2011 Broncos without mentioning #15! Timmy Tebow arrested the starting job after Kyle Orton’s 1-4 start & then led Denver on an improbably 7-1 run in their next 8 games! Those 7 wins essentially put Denver into the playoffs as Tebow would end the year on a 3-game losing streak which put Denver’s bid to win the West in danger if not for Oakland completely tanking down the stretch & San Diego losing a key game. From a statistical standpoint the Broncos were a bottom tier NFL team. To give you an idea of how far Denver is away from elite NFL teams, just note that New England beat the Broncos twice this season by the combined score of 86-33! That’s a 43-16 average game score! One thing that people need to understand about Tebow though is that he didn’t have much around him. Denver’s O-Line was atrocious by almost any metric you use. They had no receivers outside of Demaryius Thomas who is only in his 2nd season. They don’t have a TE either meaning the offense is basically Tebow & a cast of whoever. Defensively the Broncos have some young talent especially LB Von Miller who was more than advertised after coming out of Texas A&M! Miller, Elvis Dumervill & Champ Bailey were All-Pro players while guys like DT Marcus Thomas, S Brian Dawkins & CB Andre Goodman had solid seasons. From a macro perspective the Broncos were hurt by their -12 TO margin but helped by an 8-4 close games record which included a playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Broncos ended up being a miracle team, but now Tebow has to show it was all for real.
#18 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; Nobody expected anything out of the Bengals before the season began. If anything this was a massive rebuilding effort with rookies at both QB (Andy Dalton) and their best skill position player (WR AJ Green). Neither rookie disappointed. Dalton wasn’t fantastic, but he threw for 3400 yards including 20TD. He did throw 13 picks & fumble 5 times, but outside of Cam Newton, which rookie offensive player had more of an impact on his team? Dalton led his team to the playoffs which is more than what Newton did in Carolina. AJ Green also set the record straight that he’s a true #1 from the jump by catching 65 balls for 1,057 yards & 7TD as a rookie! The defense was stingy yet again under DC Mike Zimmer & it all added up to a Wild Card berth for the Bengals. Cincinnati did a lot of the same things Detroit did during the season as far as how to get to the playoffs. The Bengals aren’t as good as the Lions, but Cincy took advantage of a weak schedule in the first half to produce a 6-2 record much in the same way Detroit did. The 2nd half proved more daunting as the Bengals had to play Pittsburgh (twice), Baltimore (twice) & Houston which resulted in 5 losses, but the Bengals beat teams they should have beaten in retrospect & cashed in on the rewards. This is exactly what teams like the Bengals SHOULD do. Get a 9-7 season & a playoff game which will translate into mad confidence for the next season. Maybe the Bengals get lucky & beat Pittsburgh or Baltimore at home next year which would put them in the playoff hunt again. Just keep building & this is a great season for that purpose. Great job Cincinnati.
#19 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = #14; Like Houston, this season really comes down to what could have been had Jay Cutler stayed healthy. Cutler played in the first 10 games of the season in which Chicago went 7-3 with losses to the Packers, at the Saints & at the Lions. After Cutler was injured, the Bears dropped 3 straight to the Chiefs, Broncos & Raiders! Let’s assume that Cutler is the difference there. Chicago is now 10-3 after 13 games with Seattle, Green Bay & Minnesota left. Let’s assume a couple of wins there & the Bears are 12-4 and the #5 seed. It certainly won’t be easy sledding because they still travel to New York to take on the 9-7 Giants, but who knows how things would have turned out? Atlanta travels to New Orleans while the Lions are sitting at home despite being 10-6. Losing Matt Forte didn’t help either for the last quarter of the season, but the Bears skidded horribly down the stretch finishing up a promising season with a 1-5 finish! That brought about wholesale changes in Chicago starting with OC Mike Martz. Martz is gone and Mike Tice is now in, but the Bears still have Matt Forte as a FA to contend with. I was a little disappointed in that given how good the Bears were playing before Cutler got hurt, but they’ll resign Forte & they’ll begin again. It’s unfortunate but injuries happen. While Chicago didn’t quite have the playoff ending the Texans did, both organizations (along with Indianapolis) suffered big time injuries to their QB and probably suffered from it. You hate the idea of a lost season, but that’s what happened here in Chicago & they’ll try to make up for it in 2012.
#20 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; Seattle is a lot like Arizona in that a 2-6 start sort of destined them to miss the playoffs although a 5-3 finish sort of made them respectable and hitting the offseason on somewhat of a high note. The NFL is an odd place because this year would seem like a failure for Seattle although they finished with the same record they did last season, yet last season was a solid year because they made the playoffs. The Seahawks need a QB in the worst way. Tavaris Jackson isn’t the answer and really the Seahawks have some pretty decent pieces. Doug Baldwin played extremely well as a rookie this season & he’ll pair with Golden Tate to give Seattle a couple of good young wideouts going forward. Sidney Rice & Zach Miller seem like veterans but those guys are young too. Defnsively the Seahawks shined ranking 7th in the NFL in scoring defense! DE Chris Clemons had a great year & probably should have went to the pro bowl. The rest of the defense put in solid if not spectacular years although the loss of LB Aaron Curry was felt. Seattle had a couple of bad losses to the Browns & Redskins which could have meant a 9-7 record instead of a 7-9. It still wouldn’t have been playoff worthy, but it would have been a 2-win improvement from a year ago. What’s stands out about Seattle in 2011 to me is their “worst case” record of 5-11. It sounds terrible, but that’s actually good in the NFL. Other teams with 5-11 worst case records were the Jets, Chargers & Lions. The Seahawks need a QB in the worst way & if they get one, this team becomes a contender. Going 7-9 is tough, but there is a lot to like here.
#21 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; You really have to hand it to HC Ron Rivera. I don’t think the Panthers would have had a snowball’s chance in hell to make the playoffs so he let Cam Newton throw the ball early & often. Some advanced metrics would tell you that Carolina had the best rushing attack of any team in the NFL. Because of that you would sort of wonder why the Panthers didn’t employ more of a gameplan that suited Tim Tebow well in Denver where the Panthers would play ball control offense & run the clock out & hope for the best behind their incredible rushing attack led by Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams & Cam Newton. Instead the Panthers passed the ball 54% of the time compared to Denver throwing the ball 44% of the time. And it really didn’t matter. Carolina scored 25.4ppg which was 5th best in the NFL! Newton completed 60% of his passes which is a great start for him & the Panthers have established that Newton will indeed be a passer who runs than a runner who passes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the 2-8 start is more indicative of how the season really went rather than the 4-2 ending which saw the Panthers beat the Bucs twice & the Colts. What was telling was Carolina’s 45-17 beatdown at the hand of New Orleans. While the offense was solid, the defense was ATROCIOUS with some metrics saying it was the worst defense in the NFL. The Giants, Packers & Patriots showed you could go pretty far with a fantastic offense & a terrible defense during the regular season. The problem is that Newton isn’t Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. The defense has to get better.
#22 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; I’m really interested to see what Tony Sporano will do in New York as the Jets OC. One of the problems with a 16-game season is that it is simply too short a sample size to get a real pulse for which teams are really good and which teams are really bad. Of course the Packers are really good and the Colts are really bad, but what about a team like the Dolphins? They started the season 0-7, but in “close” games they were 0-3 and in 6 of those first 7 games the Phins never lost by more than 10 points. Is that the mark of an 0-7 squad? Doesn’t seem like it especially when that same team then finishes the next 9 games at 6-3. Remember too that Chad Henne was 0-4 in his starts while Matt Moore came in and went 6-6. Would Miami fare any better if the season started today? It’s tough to say, but you can at least argue they are much better than a 6-10 squad. Defensively the Dolphins ranked 6th in the NFL in scoring defense making them a lot like Seattle, a very solid team with a very good defense, but lacking a QB to take them to the next level. If Brandon Marshall can catch 81 balls for 1,214 yards with Matt Moore throwing him the ball, how freakishly good is he with Peyton Manning throwing him the ball? To me the bottom line is that Sporano probably got a raw deal in Miami in 2011. The Dolphins simply ran into bad luck & a short sample size of a season. The Dolphins are back almost completely intact for 2012 meaning they are a QB away from being an elite team. Avoiding an 0-7 start next year would do wonders with how they are perceived.
#23 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; I didn’t expect the Chiefs to follow up their 2010 season with another playoff berth in 2011. A lot had to happen for them to take down the West at 10-6 in 2010 despite having a terrible division record & that resulted in the Chiefs playing a first place schedule. Throw in the NFC North & the AFC East and you had a recipe for disaster. The Chiefs had to play the Jets, Patriots, Dolphins, Packers, Bears, Lions, Steelers, Chargers (twice) and even the Broncos (twice) who ended up being a playoff team! I don’t know end of season SOS numbers, but my guess is that Kansas City had to be near if not the top of the heap when it came to difficulty in scheduling. That was all before the season then went down the tubes in heaps of injuries. QB Matt Cassel was gone halfway through the season. RB Jamaal Charles got to play in a couple of games before his season was over. TE Tony Moeaki & S Eric Berry never even got to set foot on a football field in 2011. First round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin missed 5 games himself. The offense was a complete MASH unit from start to finish. If it wasn’t for KC’s defense playing pretty well, especially Derrick Johnson & Tamba Hali, this is a season most KC fans would want to forget. Like a lot of teams here, the Chiefs actually look pretty solid & even borderline elite if they could get a top tier QB in place. Like Tony Sporano, Todd Haley might have gotten a raw deal because as bad as the year went for the Chiefs with injuries, this team still finished 7-9 and only 1 game behind the Broncos for the AFC West crown. That’s saying something in a weak West.
#24 PRESEASON POWER-15 RANK = NR; There is no denying that the NFL is a quarterbacks league. The Super Bowl had Eli Manning going against Tom Brady. The year before that it was Aaron Rodgers up against Ben Roethlisberger. Arguably the most successful regular season team in the last decade had Peyton Manning under center. If you asked me who the two best teams going into the playoffs this year I would have said the teams QB’d by Drew Brees & Aaron Rodgers. Borderline great teams such as the Cowboys, Ravens & Falcons can’t seem to get over the hump even though Tony Romo, Joe Flacco & Matt Ryan are certainly thought of as top tier QBs. With that said, you can’t hardly be surprised at how Jacksonville’s season turned out when the organization handed the keys over to Blaine Gabbert and told the kid to go win one for the Gipper. Luke McCown wasn’t any better & Jacksonville’s QBs combined to complete 51.2% of their passes for just 2,510 yards, throwing 12TD to 15INT! The Jags went 5-11 with a borderline top-5 defense! Can you imagine what they would have done if the defense was average? This was by far the worst passing team in the NFL, and you aren’t going to win games with QBs who can barely complete 50% of their passes. It’s too bad because Maurice Jones-Drew had an All-Pro season & the defense really was that good. Like quite a few teams here, the Jaguars are in desperate need for a QB. Blaine Gabbert was just a rookie so he still has time. I don’t think the season would have been any better with David Garrard, but Gabbert wasn’t going to step in & dominate. That was poor management.

February 11, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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